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Someday My Printz Will Come
Inside Someday My Printz Will Come

About Joy Piedmont

Joy Piedmont is a librarian and technology integrator at LREI - Little Red School House & Elisabeth Irwin High School. Prior to becoming a librarian, Joy reviewed and reported for Entertainment Weekly’s PopWatch. She reviews for SLJ and is the President of the Hudson Valley Library Association. When she’s not reading or writing about YA literature, she’s compulsively consuming culture of all kinds, learning to fly (on a trapeze), and taking naps with her cat, Oliver. Find her on Twitter @InquiringJoy, email her at joy dot piedmont at gmail dot com, or follow her on Tumblr. Her opinions do not reflect the attitudes or opinions of SLJ, LREI, HVLA or any other initialisms with which she is affiliated.

A Song for Ella Grey

book coverA Song for Ella Grey, David Almond
Delacorte Press, October 2015
Reviewed from ARC

Here’s a novel that is exactly what its title indicates it will be: a song for Ella Grey. David Almond’s lyrical novel—his third (!) to come out this year—is about the desperate first love of one’s youth that can inspire for a lifetime. The surprise of this song is that the singer isn’t Orpheus; it’s Claire, Ella’s best friend. It’s about love, obsession, magic, and loss. In a year when Almond already has a six-star novel, it’s not likely that Ella Grey could ever have been more than a dark horse contender unless the critical praise matched or exceeded its predecessor. More than that though, Ella Grey is strange and rare, a book that will leave readers in a daze trying to understand what they’ve just experienced.
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All American Boys

All American Boys coverAll American Boys, Jason Reynolds & Brendan Kiely
Atheneum Books for Young Readers, September 2015
Reviewed from final copy

My high school students will find that this novel hits very close to home. As residents of New York City, many of them joined and organized protests when grand juries decided not to indict the police officers involved in the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner. They staged a die-in. They educated their peers about what it feels like to be repeatedly stopped and frisked. For other young readers who have lived the reality of this novel, this may be a difficult read but it may also provide them the opportunity to discuss these problems through the lens of fictional characters in a fictional situation. All American Boys is a safe space for conversation about police brutality and racism in America. Its three stars are no surprise and well-deserved for this raw and emotionally honest book.

All that being said, as Karyn put so well in her review of All the Rage, I’m trying to resolve “the tension between what matters about this book and what matters for award season.”

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Roundup: Countries in conflict

book coverbook cover

Black Dove, White Raven, Elizabeth Wein
Disney-Hyperion, March 2015
Reviewed from final copy

Hold Tight, Don’t Let Go, Laura Rose Wagner
Amulet Books, January 2015
Reviewed from final e-book

It’s a midweek roundup of books with commas in their titles. Okay, these two books are also about countries in the midst of crisis. Black Dove, White Raven is set in the years leading up to Italy’s invasion of Ethiopia in 1935. Hold Tight, Don’t Let Go presents more recent history—the immediate aftermath of the earthquake that devastated Haiti in 2010.
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More Happy Than Not

coverMore Happy Than Not, Adam Silvera
Soho Teen, June 2015
Reviewed from e-ARC

This is the kind of book that can’t be discussed deeply without spoiling it. Big spoilers ahead; watch out. 

If you could forget the most painful memories of your life, would you? Maybe you’ve seen this scenario play out in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mindbut Adam Silvera’s debut novel asks much harder questions than Charlie Kaufman’s 2004 film. Personality is largely shaped by the collection of memories we carry around. If you forget certain parts of your life, will you change and will you be happier? Equally heartbreaking and fascinating, More Happy Than Not explores how forgetting can change people, and how the loss of key memories would affect a teen who was still in the process of identity formation. Given the critical praise it’s received, this is a book that would have landed on our list anyway, but the buzz before it was even published was strongly positive and mostly centered on Adam Silvera as a unique new voice in YA lit. We all know that hype can really deflate one’s experience of a book, but that was not the case here.
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Printzbery Part 3: Now with cat ears

goodbye stranger coverGoodbye Stranger, Rebecca Stead
Wendy Lamb Books, August 2015
Reviewed from ARC

Continuing our Printzbery series, today we’re looking at Goodbye Stranger, Rebecca Stead’s latest which has received six stars. The question of intended and/or appropriate audience is one we could debate for a long time. For our purposes, let’s focus on what makes this great fiction for any age.

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X: A Novel

X book coverX: A Novel, Ilyasah Shabazz with Kekla Magoon
Candlewick Press, January 2015
Reviewed from final copy

X: A Novel made the NBA longlist and is one of five YA novels to receive six stars this year. (For reference, the other titles are: Challenger DeepThe Tightrope Walkers, Goodbye Stranger, and The Boys Who Challenged Hitler. All except Goodbye Stranger were on our initial list, and we’re likely to review Rebecca Stead’s latest because of its crossover appeal.) The praise has been effusive for this fictional account of Malcolm X’s life as a teenager. Words such as, “powerful” and “important” have been used liberally and appropriately as X arrives at a time when the Black Lives Matter movement is a fixture in the national conversation and we strive to honestly examine race and racism in our country.
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Saint Anything

Saint Anything coverSaint Anything, Sarah Dessen
Viking, May 2015
Reviewed from final copy

Truth time: I’m slightly embarrassed to admit that Saint Anything is the first Sarah Dessen novel I’ve read; I didn’t read YA when I was actually in that demographic and she was never on my syllabi as an education or library student. Although I had always heard good things about Dessen, I wasn’t sure what to expect from this book. The cover is gorgeous but vague and the title’s significance is unclear even after reading the jacket copy. However, a few things became clear after reading this novel: first, the title and cover couldn’t be more perfect for the story contained within (high fives all around, book team); second, reading Sarah Dessen when I was a teen would have made me happy; and finally, I had so many feels while reading that at one point, I had to get up and walk away from the book because I wanted a really beautiful moment to sink in.

Although reviews have been mostly positive, it has only received one star (from Publishers Weekly). We had Saint Anything on our radar thanks to reader Cecilia, who mentioned it in response to our final post last season. If you’ve read my reviews before (::cough:: Eleanor & Park ::cough:: I’ll Give You the Sun) you know how I feel about romance and relationships in YA lit. Falling in love when you’re a teen is serious stuff and it takes a skilled writer to capture that experience authentically. So why isn’t it a given that we look at YA stories about romance with the same critical lens as other “serious” books? That’s a whole conversation for another day (or the comments). For now, let’s talk Saint Anything.

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You know nothing, Mim Malone: Mosquitoland

Mosquitoland coverMosquitoland, David Arnold
Viking, March 2015
Reviewed from final copy

There are major spoilers ahead so if you don’t want to know major plot points for Mosquitoland proceed with caution.

At a certain point in one’s reading life, first person narration immediately triggers suspicion of an unreliable narrator. It’s not a terrible starting point because when do people ever tell stories without bias? The conventional wisdom is that everyone is the hero in their own story and this is definitely true of Mim Malone, our unreliable, letter-writing, narrator who runs away from the titular Mosquitoland (her new home in Mississippi) to rescue her ailing mother in Ohio. Mim is smart enough that we can believe in her ability to make the journey and navigate the various practical obstacles, but broken enough for us to question her emotional stability and judgment. Her voice is clear and distinct in David Arnold’s quirky road trip odyssey.

This is his debut novel and landed on our list after earning three stars. Amid the buzz however, there’s been criticism aimed at Mim’s understanding and use of her “one-sixteenth” Cherokee heritage. On her blog, American Indians in Children’s Literature, Debbie Reese has written extensively about this issue; I encourage you to check out her posts including one in which David Arnold responds to the criticism. Since that conversation has been so thoroughly and thoughtfully covered, let’s look at some of the other criteria to determine the possibility of seeing Mosquitoland earn a special sticker this winter.

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Fiction Roundup: Depressed Teens Edition

All the Bright Places, Jennifer Niven
Knopf Books for Young Readers, January 2015
Reviewed from final copy

I Was Here, Gayle Forman
Viking, January 2015
Reviewed from ARC

Hey folks, a friendly reminder that we do spoilers here so if you don’t want to know major plot points for either of these novels, consider yourself warned.

In young adult literature mental illness is an ISSUE (note the all caps) that comes with a responsibility to the intended audience. Misinformation is potentially harmful, as is romanticizing or sugarcoating facts.* Yet an author also has a responsibility to the story that they want to tell, their characters, and to themselves as artists. This doesn’t mean that accuracy and literary merit are mutually exclusive options—after all, accuracy is one of the Printz criteria—but they can be competing interests, especially in novels written with a young audience in mind. Can literary quality outweigh problematic messaging?

Today we’re looking at two novels about depression, both published in January. All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven has earned four stars and gathered a lot of early buzz; Gayle Forman’s I Was Here has two stars and hasn’t been in the awards conversation per se despite treading the same ground.
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The Boy in the Black Suit

The Boy in the Black Suit coverThe Boy in the Black Suit, Jason Reynolds
Atheneum Books for Young Readers, January 2015
Reviewed from final copy

Sometimes people who are grieving can find comfort in structured routines. Matt Miller, the titular boy of The Boy in the Black Suit, doesn’t just adopt a routine; he gets a job at a local funeral home where he will witness other people’s grief every day. Quietly sitting in on the services and observing the mourners helps Matt feel like the pain he’s felt following the death of his mother is the same as everyone else’s. It gives him a sense of normalcy when everything in his life has changed. He’s a regular fixture at the funeral home where he meets, of course, someone who challenges everything he thinks he knows about mourning, and that someone is a girl who will change his life.

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